May 15, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

If Humans Build DNA Machines, Is It Intelligent Design?

Two teams have succeeded in building little robots that work on DNA tracks.  These resemble in many respects the machines that cells use to perform its functions on DNA.  No one denies that humans engineered their nanobots on purpose, but Darwinist scientists claim natural cellular machines evolved without purpose or design.  What’s the difference?
    Nature reported on work by two teams that built such DNA robots.  Lloyd Smith commented on these in the same issue as a kind of science fiction come true.1  He made it clear that these are information-rich systems:

There are several interesting concepts lurking in these papers. Lund et al. point out that macroscopic robots generally have to store a fair amount of information to provide “internal representations of their goals and environment and to coordinate sensing and any actuating of [their] components”.  Molecular robots, however, have limited ability to store such complex information.  In both devices, the motion of the walkers is thus programmed into the DNA surface, rather than into the walkers themselves.  Similarly, by setting the cargo-donating machines into predetermined loading or non-loading states, Gu et al. also use information stored in the walker’s environment to control the outcome of their system….
    Although both papers integrate DNA walkers with origami landscapes, they differ in one important respect.  Lund and colleagues’ device is autonomous – no external intervention is required for it to execute the program built into the system.  By contrast, Gu and colleagues’ device relies heavily on external interventions, most importantly the addition of new DNA strands to drive the movements of the walkers and the operation of the cargo-carrying DNA machines.  The reward for this lack of autonomy is greater complexity of behaviour: whereas Lund and colleagues’ robot is currently limited to walks along a path, Gu and colleagues’ robot can pick up cargo while walking, and can adopt eight states that correspond to different manufacturing possibilities.  Future work will seek to maintain autonomy while ramping up the attainable complexity of behaviour programmed into molecular systems.
    Although we remain far away from the possibilities imagined for nanotechnology by science fiction, it is inspiring nonetheless to see such creativity and rapid progress in the development of autonomous molecular systems that can execute complex actions.  This is undoubtedly a field to watch.


1.  Lloyd M. Smith, “Nanotechnology: Molecular robots on the move,” Nature 465, 167�168, 13 May 2010, doi:10.1038/465167a.

So if we do it, it’s intelligent design, but if nature does it, it’s blind evolution?  You realize, of course, that the natural machines in cells are far ahead of us: they are not only autonomous, but attain very complex behaviors that are programmed into their molecular systems.  Not only that, they belong to complexes of molecular machines, which belong to networks of signal processing systems, that boggle the mind – and they belong to entire systems that have a coded library, and can reproduce all their parts!  Why should not scientists find it “inspiring to see such creativity” of “autonomous molecular systems that can execute complex actions” and ascribe it to design?  Molecular biology should be filled with God-fearing, worshiping, praise-singing scientists shouting Hallelujah!  What we get instead are man-fearing, fault-finding, hate-mongering ingrates shouting Pal-Ayala (next entry).

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